So long as books are written, makers of
books will be objects of general interest.
Popular curiosity once wetted will be fed on newsy gossip of
incidents and interminable details. Inventive press agents will see to
it that the supply is adequate and inexhaustible.
Descriptive biography will furnish a narrative of occurrences.
But no mass of facts about a man can supply knowledge of the man
himself. A bunch of
adjectives cannot represent embodied energy.
The main biographical facts of any
individual may be stated in a short paragraph.
The second of four sons was born 4 May,
1872, in Rome, Oneida County, New York state; was married in Buffalo,
New York, in 1899; lives in California, has two boys, paints landscapes,
writes books, and seeks to live the gospel he preaches.
With slight changes in places, dates, and
occupations, such a sketch would apply to any one of an uncounted number
of the male sex. The facts
are all right, they fitly summarize a human life, but by means of them
only no one life can be distinguished from out the multitude, and there
could be no knowledge of the real live man.
Some essential facts must be dug from out
the past where they lie embedded in the detrital chronicles of the race. Say, then, that away back in 1640 a ship load of Anglo-Saxon
freedom landed in New England. After
a brief period some of the more venturesome spirits emigrated to the far
west and settled amid the undulations of the Mohawk valley in central
New York. Protestant France
also sent westward some Gallic chivalry hungering for freedom.
The fringe of this garment of civilization spread out and reached
also into the same valley. English
determination and Huguenot aspiration touched elbows in the war for
political and religious freedom, and touched hearts and hands in the
struggle for economic freedom. Their
generations were a genuine aristocracy.
Mutual struggles after mutual aims cemented casual acquaintance
into enduring friendship. William
Wright met, loved, and married Alma T. Watson.
To them four sons were born.
A carpenter contractor, a man who builds, contrives and
constructs, is joined to a woman into whose soul of wholesome refinement
comes images of dainty beauty, where they glow and grow radiant.
With lavish unrestraint the life of this
French woman pours itself into her sons.
The third child died in infancy.
The eldest survived his mother by some thirteen years.
The youngest is a constructive mechanical engineer.
The second son is Harold Bell Wright.
During ten years this mother and this son
live in rare intimacy. The
boy’s first enduring impression of this life is the vision of the
mother bending affectionately over him while criticizing the water
color sketch his unpracticed fingers had just made.
Crude blendings and faulty lines were pointed out, then touched
into harmony and more accurate perspective by her quick skill.
Together their eyes watched shades dance on sunny slopes, cloud
shadows race among the hills or lie lazily in the valley below.
Exuberant Nature and ebullient boy loved
each other from the first. Alone,
enravished, he often wandered far in sheer joy of living.
He brings, one day, from his rambles a bunch of immortelles which
mother graciously receives. Twenty
years later the boy, man-grown, bows reverently over a box of withered
flowers—the same bouquet the mother took that day and laid away as a
precious memento of his boyish love.
Such was the first decade.
A ten year old boy, motherless, steals from
harsh labor and yet harsher surroundings, runs to the home of sacred
memories, clambers to the attic, and spends the night in anguished
solitude. This was his first Gethsemane.
For ten years buffeted and beaten, battling with adversity,
sometimes losing but never lost, snatching learning here and there,
hating sham, loving passionately, misunderstood, misapprehended, too
stubbornly proud to ask apologies and make useless explanations,
fighting poverty in the depths of privation, wrestling existence from
toil he loathed, befriending many and also befriended much, but always
face to face with the grim tragedy which has held part of the stage
Such was the second decade.
The first was spent on hill sides where shadows only made the
light more buoyant as they fled away.
The second was passed in the valley where the shadow hung lazily
till the cloud grew very black and drenched the soil.
Lured to college, he undertook to acquire
academic culture. As is
well known, college life with its professorial anecdotes and jokes, its
student pranks and grind, is routine drudgery and cobwebery prose.
Bookish professors and conventional students rarely have just
such an animate problem of French artistry and Bohemian experience to
solve. They did nobly, to be sure, but here was a mind which threw
over them all the glamour of romance.
In this new life high colors and picturesque poetry abounded in
the place of baked sawdust. The
high light of the first ten years gilded the deep shadows of the middle
distance, and the foreground was filling in.
His college career was too short but long enough.
While there was much he did not get and could not get, out of it
all he gained the most priceless possessions to be acquired by any man,
a good wife and some abiding friendships.
Circling about, as some birds do when they
take long flight, he finally headed for the Ozark country of
southwestern Missouri. He
arrived. He was again in
the open, he was himself, and he wore no harness.
By spiritual impulsion and some kindly cow-puncher compulsion he
began to preach the Christian gospel among those who needed it and to
some—if reports are true—who had to take it when he had the floor
whether they wanted it or not. For
ten years he has had abundant opportunity to minister among those who
want both him and his message.
If, now, you happen to meet this man
Wright, make yourself known. Whatever
he does or is doing he will not bore you.
He is a rather complacent and congenial sort of a man.
Quite likely you will find him laughing, willing to laugh at
least, regardless of how the clouds lower.
But be assured that, whether preaching or writing or painting,
the man who is making them regards sermons and stories and lectures as
serious messages from himself to men.
Regardless of his outward demeanor he sees something, he wants
you to see the same thing, he wants to put it before you so that you
will see it as he sees it, and along with you he wants to see ever more
clearly, beneath and behind all accidentals and ephemera, the real life
of the Eternal One shining from the face of Nature of through Man.
Regarding his own literary work, Mr. Wright
says that in the books That Printer of Udell’s and The Shepherd of the
Hills, he has barely scratched the surface of what is in him to say. We shall wait and see.
R. P. S.
Berkeley, Cal., Mar. 21, 1907
to Harold Bell Wright Brochures